Little House on the Prairie

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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How does Laura's character develop in response to challenges in Little House on the Prairie?

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As Little House on the Prairie begins, Laura is only five years old, but she quickly develops in several ways. She shows courage, particularly in her encounters with wolves and other wild animals. She gains empathy for the Indians with whom she shares this new environment, asking why anyone would come to the Indians' country if they do not like Indians. Finally, she becomes more tactful in dealing with adults, as when her mother and Mrs. Scott discuss a massacre.

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Laura is only five years old as Little House on the Prairie begins, and she is placed in an unfamiliar situation, surrounded by potential dangers. Although her development is uneven, she does show growth in at least three areas: courage, empathy, and tact.

Laura has to learn to cope with the dangerous animals around her. In chapter 3, she is terrified by something she thinks is a wolf but which turns out to be a single, much smaller animal, a lynx or coyote. In chapter 7, however, when a pack of wolves really does approach the house, Laura is initially frightened, but her reaction is already much calmer:

Terrible howls curled all around inside the house, and Laura rose out of bed. She wanted to go to Pa, but she knew better than to bother him now. He turned his head and saw her standing in her nightgown.

“Want to see them, Laura?” he asked, softly. Laura couldn’t say anything, but she nodded, and padded across the ground to him. He stood his gun against the wall and lifted her up to the window hole.

She has to display similar fortitude when a panther threatens the family in chapter 20.

Laura soon develops empathy for the Indians with whom they share the territory. She immediately realizes that the Indian man who killed the panther did so in order to protect his family. Many of the adults around Laura regard the Indians only as an enemy. Mr. Scott says that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Laura, however, quickly adopts a more reasonable approach to their neighbors, even arguing with her mother on this point:

“Why don’t you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asked, and she caught a drip of molasses with her tongue.

“I just don’t like them; and don’t lick your fingers, Laura,” said Ma.

“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”

Finally, Laura learns to be tactful and consider the feelings of others. At the beginning of the book, she blurts out every question that enters her head. By chapter 17, however, when Mrs. Scott and her mother are discussing the Minnesota massacre and suddenly stop, Laura immediately realizes that this is something they do not want to discuss in front of children and waits until Mrs. Scott has departed before asking what a massacre is.

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Describe the development of the main character, Laura, over the course of the plot in Little House on the Prairie. Write about specific examples from the plot with textual evidence that shows Laura’s response to change in her environment and her response to challenges throughout the story.

One of the first frightening challenges Laura faces in the text is when a wolf pack surrounds the family’s house. At first Laura was “too scared to make a sound” (95), but her father, Pa, remains calm about the situation and asks Laura if she wants to see the wolf. Pa expresses interest in the animals, saying, “see how his coat shines.” Here Pa makes this terrifying situation into a learning experience about nature and reassures Laura that he will “take care of you all” (98).

Wilder ends the chapter by writing that

the wolves might howl, but they could not get in while Pa and Jack were there. So at last Laura fell asleep (98).

Here we see Laura going from being extremely scared to understanding that not matter what, her family will take care of her. She also learns that nature can be beautiful and interesting, even if it is scary sometimes.

When writing about Laura’s response to challenges, you could also discuss how she deals with sickness in the book. For example, when the whole family falls sick with malaria, Laura learns about the importance of staying strong for others. For example, she hears Mary crying, and her parents are too sick to do anything about it. Although Laura can barely get out of bed herself,

she knew she must get water to stop Mary’s crying and she did. She crawled all the way across the floor (188).

Here Laura shows incredible perseverance and compassion for her family.

While many challenges teach Laura about the importance of supporting family, she also learns about other cultures and ways of life throughout the book. For example, two Native Americans come into the house, and Laura’s mother, Ma, is terrified. Laura is also frightened and hides from them behind a slab of wood. But

she couldn’t help moving her head out a little, so that one eye peeped out and she could see the wild men (138).

Here we see Laura is curious about what makes Native Americans different, and she goes on to observe their outfits in detail. Later in the book Pa claims that Native Americas are “perfectly friendly” and “peaceful” if treated well (299). Overall, we see that Laura not only learns about other cultures but learns that people who are different from her are nothing to be scared of.

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